Brad Pitt may be the headline for Killing Them Softly, but his powerful presence only scratches the surface of the crime thriller from Andrew Dominik. Pitt kills it as a mob-connected man who can control any out-of-control situation. Even as the world is falling apart around him, Pitt’s Jackie Cogan is one that exudes a confidence that is contagious.
Killing Them Softly is above all else, a crime ensemble, a la The Usual Suspects. Pitt headlines, but he reports to “Driver.” Richard Jenkins provides some of the tense film’s much needed laughs as that mysteriously monikered character, but also he pairs with Pitt to put on an acting clinic when the two connect throughout the film in various low-rent locales.
Dominik wrote the screenplay, based on a book he discovered by George V. Higgins that had been long since forgotten. The director knew what he wanted out of the thrilling novel and culled together a film that fans of the book will treasure, but audiences with no familiarity of the Higgins voice will also appreciate.
Set in what could be Detroit, New Orleans or a small town outside of Boston, Killing Them Softly achieves its broad strokes by painting a story of an illegal poker game run by Ray Liotta’s Markie Trattman that is robbed. The thing is, Trattman is so liked by the nefarious community that he is a part of, that they gave him a pass for robbing his own card game recently. Somebody knows that and proceeds to take down Markie’s card game. The blame would immediately fall on him for the repeat rip-off. Right?
Only problem is Pitt’s fixer shows up, determined to get to the bottom of the truth -- at any cost. Hinted at in the Killing Them Softly trailer, the movie has a character that is unspoken and that is an ever-present recall of the 2008 economic crash. The film even begins its title sequence with then candidate Barack Obama giving a speech in October 2008, commenting on the swirling stench of financial failure.
The film makes a powerful connection between what happened during late 2008 and the world of gambling reeling from getting robbed. Dominik does not shy away from connecting the powers that be in real-life America to the gamblers fighting for survival onscreen. They share one thing in common: The quicksand of debt that piles ever higher while panic sets in.
What we have to close with in our Killing Them Softly review is that during this stellar story, it is all held together by the even-keel nature of Pitt’s performance. The title of the film fits the encapsulation of his characterization of a man who does what he does, without ever being noticed.